Drafted in the eleventh round in 2004 it’s been a somewhat slow climb towards 2012, what appears to be Michael Saunders’ first full season in the Major Leagues. I say somewhat because Saunders actually reached Triple-A for the first time as a 21-year old in 2008. In 2009, at 22-years old, he made his Major League debut.
However, until this season, Saunders time in the Major Leagues has been pretty poor in the average department. Just look at the numbers:
- 2009 (122 AB) – .221 with a 31.0% strikeout rate and .329 BABIP
- 2010 (289 AB) – .211 with a 25.7% strikeout rate and .260 BABIP
- 2011 (161 AB) – .149 with a 31.3% strikeout rate and .212 BABIP
- 2012 (225 AB) – .265 with a 25.2% strikeout rate and .338 BABIP
In other words he has been all over the map in terms of strikeouts and BABIP. Over his minor league career he posted a 24.0% mark and in 659 AB at Triple-A he was at 21.5%. That gives us promise that his current mark in 2012 is a believable number and one that he could maintain.
The BABIP may have been affected by Saunders being a little bit homer happy. Over his first three years he posted fly ball rates of 38.7% (though the BABIP was realistic), 47.9% and 49.5%.
This season he has the fly ball rate down to 31.7% and the line drive rate up to 23.6% (he hadn’t been above 16.5%). That lends credence to the higher BABIP that he’s posted this season. While it is very possible that the line drive rate regresses and/or the BABIP falls, it appears that he has the potential to be a .260ish hitter.
If Saunders can hit for some power, no one is going to complain about that mark.
That’s the real question we need to answer. Can Saunders generate home runs when he’s not swinging for the fences? In fact, when we dive a little bit deeper into his fly ball rate we see the following breakdown this season:
- April – 40.8%
- May – 27.3%
- June – 28.3%
In May he hit just 1 HR. Thus far in June he does have 3 HR, but it’s courtesy of a 23.1% HR/FB. That’s a number that I have a hard time buying into.
In other words, it appears that Saunders could give be giving up his power in order to hit for a better average. However, is .260 really enough for someone that looks like a 15 or so home run option?
Yes, he does have 10 SB on the season which helps him to become a viable option in all formats. Of course, the most he’s stolen in a season since 2007 (when he had 29) was his 16 between Triple-A and the Majors last season. Maybe he’s become more comfortable and is being given more opportunities to run, but I wouldn’t start thinking that he’s going to be able to steal 30 bases in a season. He’s probably more of a 15-20 guy.
At the end of the day, we are looking at Saunders as a potential 15/15 type player with a little bit more upside. In five-outfielder formats that’s a player who has plenty of low-end appeal. Just value him accordingly and don’t go expecting much more than that. If you do, you are going to be sorely disappointed.